Welcome to the New Roaring ‘20s, Chicago!

Welcome to the New Roaring ‘20s, Chicago!

How did your New Year’s Eve match up to the 1920’s?  Whether by intention or purely coincidental, your celebration may not have been much different than the last time Chicago rang in the ‘20s.  Other traditions, mercifully, have been left in the past.

The cost of everything was higher on New Year’s Eve.  If you didn’t have reservations at the hotel, restaurant, or show of your choice you were probably out of luck.  Even in the ‘20s, scalpers bought up tables and tickets and then sold the reservations at a considerable profit to those interested.  Bootleggers and even pharmacists raised their prices in honor of the holiday season.  Hopefully you didn’t rush to the doctor in the early hours of December 31st, but during Prohibition it was common for doctors’ offices to be packed with people complaining of ailments that could only be cured by prescription whiskey.  Hence, the price-hike for pharmacists.

Hip flasks at restaurants and hotels were frowned upon, although not discouraged by the owners.  Tablecloths were common on New Year’s in every establishment and the owners merely winked at patrons that added something celebratory to their otherwise virgin drinks beneath the cover of white linen.  Maybe because of the cover, the feds did discourage anyone restaurant or hotel owner from serving ginger ale to patrons.  Apparently in years prior, ginger ale had been used to mix the medicinal spirits and for no other purpose.

The police were outnumbered on New Year’s, much like today.  Each year during Prohibition, the feds announced that they were adding more agents that would begin patrol at 8PM.  If a man went to a party dateless and well-dressed, they could provoke a near riot with party-goers assuming that they were Federal agents.  In one such instance, the riot could only be controlled when the young man drank from his own hip flask to prove to the nervous drinkers that he was one of them.

If you celebrated New Year’s Eve at a downtown hotel, were you allowed access to the dining rooms?  You might not have been in 1929 when the Palmer House closed off its nicer areas to protect its furniture and bellboys from the bottle-throwing from the year before.

Did you drown your sorrows in bathtub gin this year?  Chicagoans did as the 1930’s rolled in, creating a mannequin named “Old Man Depression” and killing him in a vat of gin.

Did you make a New Year’s Resolution this year?  This is also not a new tradition, although yours may be very different from the days of the 1920’s when the most common New Year’s resolutions were to write more letters (remember those?) and be more punctual.

However you celebrated, wherever you found yourself, welcome to the ‘20s.  Bring your own ginger ale and Happy New Year!

Written by Amy Williams

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